Thursday, 5 December 2013

From one friend to another... Lisa's Lentil Quiche

Lisa is one of my oldest friends.  We met back in college, where we bonded over our shared passion for animal rights, environmentalism and confusion over physics.  We've shared many family days together as our children have grown from bouncing on the trampoline to tracking down our teens at parties they're not supposed to be at.  This quiche has appeared at many of our get togethers and the kids all love it.  Her addition of brown lentils adds some real substance to this recipe, and is a little healthy twist on a tea time favourite.  I said to my daughter the other day 'I'm going to make a quiche' and she immediately piped up "Lisa's lentil quiche?"  So here you go, from one friend to another...   

Lisa's Deep Dish Lentil Quiche

Shortcrust pastry:
340g plain flour
120g cold butter, roughly chop
1 free range egg
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cold milk
Or you can use ready made pastry

250g cooked brown lentils
1 red onion
Balsamic vinegar
Brown sugar
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
3 medium vine tomatoes
6 free range eggs
400g cream cheese
150g grated mature cheddar cheese
2 tbsp fresh or dried thyme
salt & pepper

  1. Put all the pastry ingredients in a food processor and pulse gently until mixture comes together. Wrap in cling film and leave in fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Fine slice one large red onion and fry in pan with a little oil and pinch of salt. Cook for 6-7 mins until softened, then add 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar and 1 tbsp of brown sugar. Cook gently until onions are fully softened and caramelised.
  3. Place broccoli florets in boiling water and cook for 3-4 mins, then drain and plunge in cold water. Set aside.
  4. Whisk eggs, cream cheese, thyme, 1/2 tsp each of salt & pepper.  Remove cores of tomatoes and slice each half into 3-4 pieces.
  5. If using dried lentils, boil for about 20 mins until soft but not falling apart. Rinse and set aside.
  6. Grease a 25cm deep flan tin, and line the bottom with a disc of greaseproof paper.  Roll out pastry to 4-5mm thickness and line tin, leaving edges overhanging. Line the pastry with sheet of greaseproof and fill with baking beans. Bake in oven for 20 mins at 190 C.  Remove paper and beans and bake for another 5 mins. Remove from oven and turn down temperature to 165 C.
  7. Spread red onion marmalade across bottom of flan dish, then sprinkle layer of cooked brown lentils, then add a layer of the broccoli florets and another layer of lentils. Pour over cheese mixture, and agitate to ensure liquid is evenly dispersed across veg. Layer top with pieces of tomato, then pour over remaining liquid. Sprinkle grated cheese across the top and bake for 30-35 mins in oven at 170 C.  
  8. Remove from oven and using sharp serrated knife, shave off excess pastry around edge of tin.  Scatter remaining fresh thyme over top.  Serve warm with a big salad.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Stepping it up.... streetfood stylie!

I think the shock of the sudden weather change has hit us harder than we know. One week I'm in flip flops and shorts, strolling down Beech Road like it's downtown Nice. Barely a few weeks later, the sun has most definitely not got his hat on and the central heating is on!  Is it too early in the season for Seasonal Affective Disorder? We've not even had the equinox yet and it feels dark, miserable and downright soggy.

But there is light at the end of this dismal looking tunnel, as plans are afoot at the pub to get some canopies up in the garden and make things a bit more comfortable for loitering around street food vans ;0) The pub refurbishment is certainly shaping up and things are looking cosy inside, especially as the fireplaces should be up and running soon.

Others things that glimmer during September (even if the sun is refusing to) is the delicious Autumn produce.  During last weekend's rain fest, I decided it was time to raise my game again, and put some gourmet specials together to shake up the menu.  My street food passion has always been about wanting to bring street food inspiration to restaurant quality food. And this week, I hope the new gourmet specials will do just that.      

So here's what we have lined up for this week's gourmet specials, alongside some Gecko favourites of course ....

Indonesian ‘Pepes’ with Mackerel or Oak Smoked Tempeh
Banana leaf wrapped & baked with chilli & candlenut bumbu,
served on spiced squash rosti with tamarind & plum gravy

Shashlik Lamb Chops Or Paneer Shashlik
Organic Derbyshire Autumn lamb* or handmade fresh paneer
Served with channa pilau rice & daniya chutney

Vietnamese Banh Gan
Coconut crème caramel served with Scottish raspberries

The specials are being served from tomorrow, Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd September, from the garden at The Beech Inn, Chorlton.  We'll still have some of our usual menu running and don't worry about the weather. It's time to get comfy in the pub I think.

* I need to tell you about the lamb. I think it's very special. I usually source all my meat from our local award winning Frosty butcher. But once or twice a year, I get given a lamb and every time we serve it, customers say it's flippin tasty. My mum's boyfriend is a retired farmer in Derbyshire, and they farm a 'boutique' flock of lambs every year (as well as keeping horses there - that's how him and mum met last year. But that's another story).  I got given some lamb in Spring and a hogget last Autumn.  I took some photos of the Autumn flock happily grazing in their organic field the other week, but thought it might be a step too far to post the photo, given my vegetarian leanings.  Suffice to say, the lambs were happy and well cared, humanely butchered and I now have one in my fridge and freezer.  Gate to plate in a week. Now that's what you call provenance :)  Reckon those shashlik chops will rock. Personally, I'm looking forward to the channa pilau (I made this for my MasterChef audition and Gregg Wallace said it was the best rice dish he'd ever tasted - I think that may be due to the butter content!).  

I'm also excited about making tempeh 'pepes'. Pepes are banana leaf wrapped fish parcels from Indonesian and bumbu is the spice paste, used in lots of Indonesian cooking. Bumbu varies according to different dishes. This one is made with candlenuts, a kind of earthy macadamia and a blend of fresh and fragrant SE Asian herbs and spices.  The Victoria plums are freshly picked from my organic garden tree at home.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Manchester International Festival & beyond

Things have been so busy, I've missed an entire month without blogging. And I'm well overdue in posting some recipes. You'll have to make do with the back catalogue for now as I'm meeting myself coming backwards just now :)

We had a record breaking weekend at The Beech Inn as we began a gloriously sunny July.  The Timothy Taylor's night followed by Chorlton Beer Festival got things off to a swinging start, ending with a scorching family fun Sunday along Beech Rd.  

Bunting, suncream and watermelon are my memories of the day. And we've had some lovely new summer dishes on the menu.

Buddha's Tapas
Sticky coconut rice & honey mango

The following week we moved Barbarella for the first time in over 6 months. I had sleepless nights about the prospect of moving her but it all turned out okay in the end. Got ourselves nicely ensconced in Albert square from last Friday until late on Sunday. We had an amazing time at what has turned out to be a great festival. 

Busier than we could have ever have imagined, lots of lovely feedback from customers and hopefully some new visitors back at The Beech.  We even got ourselves in the Evening News :)

And the weekend wouldn't be complete without my favourite ice cream from Ginger's Comfort Emporium, marmalade & brown toast!

I'm taking a well earned break next week, so Mark Lloyd will be the guest chef at The Hungry Gecko at The Beech Inn from next week, for ONE WEEK ONLY. He will be serving some of his own specials alongside some gecko favourites. Thursday 25th through to Sunday 28th July.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Exeter SW Festival of Food & Drink

Every now and again, I am tempted to up sticks and move to the South West. There's so much to love about the area's coast and countryside, it's a picture perfect contrast to Manchester's urban clutter. And then there's the amazing produce. The warmer climate means more variety with heady hints of the continent, especially with such astounding, albeit expensive, seafood.

Last year I worked (as a trader) at Exeter SW Festival, and I barely saw beyond a 20 metre radius from Barbarella. Aside from hiking two miles back and forth to the garage to try and fix, what now appears to be, an unfixable tow car. I learnt loads from the experience, that's for sure.

The truth of the matter is me and James (Nathan) got slammed last year. Our menus were too complicated, we underestimated our prep and we were left shorthanded due to vehicle disasters and slightly drunk missing staff. Obviously that put me in a great mood ;0) The weekend ended with me getting my head stuck in a small cupboard at the back of Barbarella! My sister thought I was laughing, when I was in fact crying. At this point I thought I might quit.  But I didn't (obviously) and I moved onwards and upwards, and since learning that some of my toughest experiences are the best learning I've ever done.

When I was invited back to Exeter this year, I was a little tempted to take part as a trader. Not least because I wanted to see how far I'd come. But now Barbarella is sitting pretty in the garden at the Beech Inn, I decided I would take a day or two off from the kitchen and go and enjoy one of my favourite food and drink festivals, in one of my favourite parts of the country.

My highlights have to include catching up with Michael Caines, who has been such a tremendous mentor to me during the last year. We had a little laugh about my comparative naievty last year, how much I've learned and what a difference a year makes.  

Spiced cauliflower & lentil pie from Tom's pies
Lee and I had some great food including a perfectly delicious (and seasonal) leek and spring green risotto with Devon blue from Antonia's kitchen, and I finally got to sample Tom's pies after missing out last year.  Some salted fudge from Roly's also went down rather well, and I was starting to enjoy an elderflower mojito, when I remembered I had a demo in the later afternoon.

Great times catching up with old friends and making some new ones was just lovely.  Had a really fun time with Anton Piotrowski and his gorgeous funny wife and friends.  The After Dark action at the festival started for me with a cook off against Anton, last years joint winner of MasterChef Professionals (no pressure then :0/).  All for fun of course, and I don't mind admitting he whooped me big time with lots of fancy chef-fy stuff.  I really must look up whether a compressed fruit is really simply just pressed!

Salsify your soul!
I made a trio of Thai tasters, with a little fine dining twist on three classic street food dishes.  I got a little over spicy with the tom yum shot, but the salsify fritters went down well.

I couldn't get salsify 'oop north' but Total Produce came to the rescue thanks to Gregg's old veg pal, Charlie Hicks, who hooked me up for a supply. I also had to 'borrow' some ingredients from the hotel kitchen after having my liquids confiscated at the airport. Apparently the container has to actually state it's 100ml, so my 50ml ones, unlabelled, were not acceptable!

James Nathan and Dhruv Baker ended the cookery theatre day with their cook off - not sure who won as think I had my nose in a wine glass by then but we all went on to have a great night fuelled by excellent music, dancing and Pizza Dragon pizzas, and culminating with cocktails at Abode.  

Had to be up at a reasonable time, as I was first in the cookery theatre with Rob Andrew, head chef from Riverford Farm.  I toned down the heat in the tom yum and upped the fragrancy with a seaweed broth.  Rob made some amazing food with the best of the seasons vegetables from the farm, but this time I pipped it.  Although maybe Michael was being kind after me losing to Anton.  Anyway it's all in good fun.
Tom Yum broth with tofu, Pad Thai in crispy noodle basket & salsify coconut fritters
After the dem, had a lovely food chat with Rob and we even helped a lady plan the vegan elements for her mother's 80th birthday menu for a dinner for 200 people. I spent the rest of the day eating (and maybe the odd drink) and picking up non liquid treats to take home.  Rob kindly gave me some delicious Cornish blue and Lee was rather chuffed with his Dartmoor Farm's special edition chilli sauce 'Ring of Fire' (in a bottle labelled 100ml of course).

I also had a quick hello with Matt Follas and was rather inspired to explore the use of candy floss after watching his demo. Chilli candy floss? Er yes please!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A little update from the garden...

My word, it's been quite some weeks since my last blog post.  A good reflection of just how busy I've been with getting things off the ground at The Beech Inn.  There has been so much to get sorted and organised, from waste management and refining the menus, to staff training (time consuming) and getting my head around payroll (and what a joy that was!).

I've had the opportunity to put everything I've learned over the last year into practice.  In some ways, I'm grateful for all I endured (and believe me, it really was an endurance test at times) because I can see now what it taught me. I'm still learning and making mistakes, but it finally feels like I've found where I'm meant to be. We've had some great reviews and feedback too, which is ace.

As some of you know, I have a new chef.  I can barely describe extent to which this has lifted the pressure.  It was a tough learning curve for us both. I broke my thumb at the same time and she got thrown in at the deep end.  But things are working out well, and it's great to have someone to share the load with me.

Thai BBQ tofu puff skewers

Barbarella is looking mighty fine in the garden at The Beech Inn, and we're now open from 4pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 12pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

When the sun is shining in the garden, it's like a little festival of food.  Obviously the rain and snow has not been our friend over the last few weeks but I'm hopeful for some brighter days ahead.

It's the Farmer's Market on Chorlton Green next Saturday, 27th April, so we may have to get the BBQ out, Bangkok roadside stylie :) Sticky BBQ satay skewers anyone?

Thai BBQ free range chicken skewers

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Street food comes to Chorlton!

The last few weeks have seen some big turning points with everything.  I have been thinking that my luck had to change soon.  And it feels like it has.  As beautiful as Barbarella is, the biggest challenge over the last year has been the logistics of moving her big silver booty up and down the country! The sad result of this was that it felt like it stopped being about the food, and became about everything else (welcome to the world of running your own business I hear people say).  My dining club has been a relief, to return to a world of cooking where my focus is back on making great food, and not about yet another breakdown.

Well all that is about to change.  I am moving Barbarella into the garden of The Beech Inn, a fine cask ale pub on Chorlton's beloved Beech Rd.  I'll be serving up my Asian street food inspired menu, starting next Friday 15th February from 4pm, then Saturday and Sunday from 12pm until late.  I plan to be there every week from Friday to Sunday, with the odd exception.  We may even expand the trading times if that's what people want.  

I hope to be able to offer a bigger menu again, rather than being limited by logistics to 3 or 4 dishes.  I'm so excited as it feels like my street food cafe dream could be realised.  So we've got big plans for launch night.  Service starts at 4pm on 15th Feb, and we'll be offering free tasters so everyone can sample some of the different food on offer. 

The plan for the launch night menu is to bring together some of the favourite dishes from last year.  So here's the plan... and as they're mostly old favourites from last year's menu, we have photos too :)

Paneer Shashlik Roti Wrap, spicy marinated fresh paneer with cachumba salad w/ coriander chutney & raita (V)

Sloppy Joe Rendang, grass fed Cheshire beef with coconut & lemongrass, in turmeric roll, served with Asian 'slaw
Kimchi noodle soup, traditional Korean red pepper broth & fermented cabbage with local pak choi, shitake mushrooms & rice noodles (Vg, wheat free)
Nasi Goreng, Indonesian egg fried rice with free range eggs & veg (V), served with 5 spice pork belly

Dal Masala, yellow butter dal with aubergine masala, served with cauliflower stuffed paratha (V)

Thai style fritters, served with Asian 'slaw
 - with sweetcorn & spring onion (Vg)
- with MSC prawns & spring onion

Monday, 14 January 2013

Thali Night, banana leaf cafe style

Our much loved Thali Night is back! Inspired by banana leaf cafes in Asia and thali style dining, we'll be serving up an Indian feast on Friday 8th Feb.  Last year was a great success and guests had a lot of fun dining together.  Nobody seemed to mind the bench seating or the mismatching glasses, and most even ate with their hands!

So here's a draft of the menu for what's in store...

Punjabi style samosas with spicy potato & green mango
Paneer & cashew koftas with green chilli & tomato masala
Beetroot pakoda kadai, seasonal dumplings in yoghurt curry
Kali daal (creamy black lentils)
Tarka dal (yellow butter tor dal)
Baigan ka bharta (roasted aubergine masala)
Pappu dosaki (dudhi gourd with channa)

Served on a banana leaf, with basmati rice, salad, raita & pickles

The cost is £20 per person. To book a place, email

Friday, 4 January 2013

New year & a new menu for dining club

I've finally settled on the menu for January's dining club dates.  I'm a big fan of Korean food (no surprise there) and have been playing around with kimchi for a few months now.  I wasn't sure how well noodle soup would sit as a main course.  Soup always makes me think starter.  But it's too substantial for a starter, especially served with the tofu and seawood cakes.

I'm excited about making panipuri.  I love this Indian snack, and for me it's the perfect amuse bouche.  It sings on sweet and sour and spicy notes with lots of soft and crispy textures.  What could be more perfect?

The dessert was inspired by a restaurant in Kathmandu called Fire & Ice.  They served hot brownies with ice cream, which after ten days in the mountains and living on dal bhat (the simple Nepali dinner set of soupy lentil dal and steamed rice, with fresh green chillies and salt on the side) it seemed like food from the gods.

There are still some places available for the upcoming dining club dates.  There are just 3 spaces left for Saturday 12th January, and there are places available for Thursday 17th and Friday 18th January.  The Hungry Gecko dining club is £29 per person for five courses.  To book a place, email us at

January Menu

Classic Indian street food snack
with tamarind, chilli & chaat masala

Spiced rice in panko croquette
Served with a poached quail egg

Kimchi noodle soup
Korean style red pepper broth with traditional fermented cabbage
Served with tofu seaweed cakes & egg noodles

Raspberry lassi sorbet

Fire & Ice Brownie
Hot sticky brownie with hint of chilli,
served with star anise & vanilla ice cream